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Coasts and Castles, a ride along the NCN1/76 (Part 3): Dunbar to Edinburgh

Coasts and Castles, a ride along the NCN1/76 (Part 3): Dunbar to Edinburgh

As a Scot, the concept of a healthy cooked breakfast is a novel concept, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed at the B&B in Dunbar. We had arrived in Dunbar the evening before after two days of riding along the Coasts and Castles cycle route (NCN 1 and NCN 76) from Alnmouth, via Fenwick and today we were planning to continue cycling back to Edinburgh.

From past experience we knew that the NCN 76 shadowed the A1 to Haddington, taking it away from the coast and completely bypassing the charming towns of North Berwick and Gullane, as well as the impressive ruins of Tantallon Castle. This seems an odd route choice for a National Cycle Network route called Coasts and Castles. After Haddington the NCN 76 does take you back to the coast at Longniddry, so that you can follow a rough off-road (traffic free) cycle track and enjoy the delights of Cockenzie power station and it intendant ash lagoons. What are Sustrans thinking of??

If I had been planning the route, I would have followed the current route to East Linton, but then used the network of minor roads to get out to Tantallon Castle. Then follow the A198 into North Berwick, which has: a regular rail service on which all trains carry bicycles without a booking, an award winning Seabird Centre, tea rooms, ice cream parlours and view to Bass Rock.
Bass Rock

Next, either follow the A198 or take minor roads to the village of Dirleton, to pick up another castle, followed by a visit to the pretty village of Gullane, with its splendid teashops, after all cyclists need a good cake stop. Then follow back roads to the B1377 near Aberlady, and on to Longniddry which is on the current route. However, from Longniddry I would head inland, after all, how many people really want to cycle around a coal fired power station? Instead follow quiet minor roads to Pencaitland, with a diversion to the Glenkinchie Distillery, if desired. At Pencaitland, Regional Cycle Route 73 can be picked up to provide an off-road (traffic free) section (which seems to be obligatory) and follow it to join the NCN 1 for the final run into Edinburgh. But, I digress, as we didn’t actually ride the route suggested above, that is just my suggestion for a more interesting and pleasant Coasts and Castles cycle route through East Lothian.

Setting out from Dunbar, we took a minor road round the back of the cottage hospital, used a farm track which ducks under the A1, then turned uphill to Pitcox. From Pitcox, we headed towards Stenton, but then turned off towards Bielmill. This was a good downhill straight, so I got the opportunity to get a speed buzz. I got as far as Bielmill before remembering that we were going to turn left half way down, to avoid the short sharp climb on the far side of the Biel Water, so I had to turn round and trundle back to where Ulli was waiting for me. We jinked our way round to the road passing south of Traprain Law, and we were pleased to see along the way that there several sections of newly surfaced road. At the end of this road we reached a cross roads, where we had planned to go straight ahead, but the road was closed.

We pulled just passed the traffic cones and were just debating whether to go on and walk past the works, or take a detour, when a car came past. The driver stopped 50 m down the road, then reversed back to talk to us. She told us that the road ahead was very bad and suggested that we try going around towards Garvald. When I objected that way would be a wee bit more hilly, she gave me a cheeky grin and said it wasn’t that bad and that she cycled that way every day. After she had gone I remembered where I had seen her before, the last time we had gone down that road, she had passed us in the car, then I had seen the car parked outside a cottage, and shortly after that she had shot past us on a Tri bike. Aye, I thought, she may well go round by Garvald on her training route, but I bet she didn’t carry 10+ Kg of luggage on her Tri bike.

After a short further debate, we decided to follow the suggested detour via Garvald, sure enough it was a wee bit more hilly, but then that is what the granny ring is for. Just before Garvald, we picked up the B6370 which we followed to Gifford. Coming down a hill just outside of Gifford, there was a Speed Indicator Device which showed my speed to be 33 mph (53.1 Km/h), so I stopped pedalling and coasted into the village. There was a threat of showers in the air, and Ulli wanted to press on, so we didn’t stop at the café, as we normally would.

We hadn’t got far when we were overtaken by a rain shower and took shelter in a bus shelter. Once the shower had passed, we pressed on to Pencaitland where we planned to join Regional Cycle Route 73 which runs along an old railway line. Just as we got to the railway line, Ulli’s bike decided it had had enough of this off road stuff and broke a spoke on the back wheel. As we didn’t have a spoke key with us and the wheel had already started to go out of true, we decided the safest thing to do was to go back to the road, gently ride to Longniddry and catch a train to Edinburgh from there…

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 52.1 Km
  • Time spent riding – 02:41:47
  • Max Speed – 53.5 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 19.3 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – 380 m


Coasts and Castles, a ride along the NCN1/76 (Part 2): Fenwick to Dunbar

Coasts and Castles, a ride along the NCN1/76 (Part 2): Fenwick to Dunbar

After a pleasant breakfast we set out once again, I wasn’t feeling quite as fit as the day before, probably due to my only recent recovery from flu. As we didn’t have the official “Sustrans Coast & Castles South” route map, nor did we have the updated sheet to the 2004 2nd edition of the OS map, we were following the signs for NCN 1 and using an older OS map. So we didn’t know that the route we were about to turn onto was unsuitable for road bikes, or that there is an “alternative road route (not signed) via Scremerston and A1167.” Thanks, Sustrans!! This is supposed to be part of an International long distance cycle route, not a mountain bike track, international visitors must think this is some sort of sick joke. But then this is the UK, and we have well meaning groups like Sustrans, who are there to remind us that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

We knew from the evening before that the off road route from Beal to Beal Point had a loose surface which could be dangerous on loaded touring bikes. Also, that there were closed gates at either end, but an open entrance to the road half way down to where the north bound route turns left (this is fairly typical of Sustrans engineering). So we rode down on the road and turned left through the open gateway (which doesn’t actually have a gate) on to a farm track leading north. Then more gates and a high bridge over a drainage ditch called the South Low, the land here has been reclaimed from the sea, but one wonders, with climatic change, how long before the sea decides to claim it back again.

We meet several groups of cyclists coming the other way, all of whom were riding mountain bikes, which were far better suited to the path than our road oriented trekking bikes. After several kilometres of slow going over rough ground we finally regained the road and crossed over the North Low, shortly followed by the last crossing of the East Coast Main Line on a level crossing of the trip. The next crossing of the railway line was only a couple of kilometres further on, but this time on a humpback bridge, after which we were off road again, following a better made path through the dune slack. A couple more gates later and we briefly back on to black top, which lead us past Cocklawburn Beach and a car park, deserted save for a solitary ice cream van, next to which was a bored looking youth sitting on the grass, smoking.

By now the sand dunes had given way to rocky skerries and we were climbing towards low cliffs. The road turned sharply right, just by the imaginatively named Sea House, unfortunately our route departed from the road and followed the coastal footpath along the top of the cliffs. Don’t get me wrong, this is all very scenic and a fine walking path, but it is poorly suited to being a long distance cycle route.

On the NCN1 Coast and Castles cycle route

The final section of the of the cliff path was not only steep, it was rough and loose, which was far from ideal. Then we were back onto road again, phew.

As we cycled into Berwick-Upon-Tweed, we met several large groups of cyclists heading the opposite way. I am not sure where they were going, but there were lots of lots of friendly waves and hellos. After a confusing twisting and turning route, we found ourselves on a high bridge over the river, the Royal Tweed Bridge. Here the route makes you ride on the pavement, normally I object to riding on the pavements, but in this case I was happy to do so. The town was completely clogged with motor vehicles going nowhere fast, and the drivers getting increasingly cranky.

By now Ulli was wanting a map of the route ahead, we knew from information the previous night’s B&B that there was a cycle hire shop on Bridge Street. This turned out to be leading to a different bridge to the one we were on and required us to ride through the centre of the old town. When we finally found the shop, it was closed as it was a Sunday. So we thought we would try a bookshop, but none there, so finally we tried the Tourist Information. They were able to give us a free a Northumberland Cycling Map, but they didn’t stock the Coast & Castles South cycle map because it crosses the border. I tried pointing out the route started in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and that ¾ of the route was in Northumberland. The lassie was embarrassed, but very apologetically said that she wasn’t allowed to sell them. Then there was the next wee issue. It had been slow going getting to Berwick and the wind was getting stronger and we had decided that we wouldn’t make Edinburgh on the same day. So we need to book a B&B around Dunbar, but Berwick Tourist Information couldn’t make a booking across the border, we would have to cycle to Eyemouth to do that.

We followed signs to get back on to the NCN 1 cycle route, I was glad to be leaving the crabbit bampot drivers of Berwick-Upon-Tweed behind. This put us on a known route, having been there almost two months before. The first bit was on quiet roads then turning onto a off-road path which was even more overgrown than it had been the last time we had passed. Then across the A1, to the point where we were to leave the NCN 1 and join the NCN 76, to follow the coastal route north.

The NCN 76 started by heading steeply uphill for about 500 m (gaining 50 m in altitude), then we turned sharply left and lost the altitude gained over about 2 Km. Then at a cross roads we turned left in to no man’s land, along the Scottish / English border for about another 2 Km. We knew when we had crossed the border into Scotland, as there was a big sign saying “Welcome to Scotland”, the other side was merely marked with a sign saying “England”, don’t expect a welcome going south.

The landscape was changing, gone was the flat to slightly undulating coastal strip, now it was becoming more rolling hills and we were climbing more. We topped out at 200 m, then started the steady decent towards Ayton, with splendid views across to the massive red sandstone pile that is Ayton Castle. It was just a shame that the light wasn’t right for photos. Beyond Ayton, we wound our way on down to Eyemouth, where we sought out the Tourist Information office. In Berwick-Upon-Tweed we had been told that it closed at 16:00 on a Sunday, but now found that it closed at 14:00, fortunately we had 10 minutes to spare. A lovely lady found us a room in a B&B in Dunbar, which meant that we could relax and enjoy rest of the afternoon’s ride.

Leaving Eyemouth, we headed up hill again, this time straight into a westerly wind. A couple of kilometres out of Eyemouth we met a pair of German cycle tourers heading the opposite way, who stopped and asked how far it was to Eyemouth. We were climbing steadily again, by-passing Coldingham, but making our way up onto Coldingham Moor. Out on the moor the landscape was more open and we felt the full effect of the wind, which slowed our progress. On the few occasions where there was a bit of shelter, our speed increased by about 10 Km/h without our changing cadence, only to drop back down as soon as we left the shelter. The road crossing the moor is a very straight A road, but not particularly busy, we passed by a Brompton rider going in the opposite direction, zipping along at speed.

We finally topped out at 226 m and were greeted with an inviting looking sweeping downhill, which looked like it was going to be an easy ride.

Looks like and easy downhill ride

Unfortunately the wind had other ideas and we had to pedal hard to make progress. Before setting off downhill, we also had a dramatic view of coast, cliffs, and Pease Bay, marred only by the caravan park. Beyond that Torness Nuclear Power Station and the Dunbar cement works sticking out as landmarks among yellow cereal fields.

Evidently the route planners at Sustrans thought these were all sights not to be missed as the route took us past every single one of them. We made our own diversion to visit Dunglass Collegiate Church, which was worth the effort.

Dunglass church

A quick note here on the historical background to Dunglass Collegiate Church: “The term ‘Collegiate Church’ covered a variety of sins, often literally. Collegiate Churches were generally endowed by the great and the good (and the rich) of the land. Each was served by a small religious community whose primary role was to pray for the souls of their benefactor, his wife, and his family. Presumably the idea was to relieve the great and the good of the onerous burden of praying for their own souls. Lennon and McCartney may have been right in suggesting that ‘money can’t buy you love’: but in the Scotland of the 1400s many believed it could buy you salvation” (Undiscovered Scotland). It was held against the English in 1544 when Henry VIII engaged in his rough wooing of infant Mary, Queen of Scots, and by the 18th century it was be used as a stables. These days it is occasionally used for weddings.

Dunglass church

The caravan park, nuclear power station and cement works, I could happily done without. It would have been better to have continued on the A1107 and ducked under the A1 to go to Cockburnspath. This looks possible on the map and satellite images, but I haven’t tried it on the ground yet. Either way, we were please to reach Dunbar. Having located our B&B, we dropped off our luggage and had a shower, before headed out for a splendid dinner at the Volunteer Arms. I can recommend the monkfish and salmon kebabs, if you can’t get fresh fish 200 m from the harbour, you can’t get it anywhere. After which we sat on a bench in a wee park over looking the harbour entrance, waiting to take photos of the sun set.

Bass Rock in the gloaming

While we were waiting, we saw a kestrel being mobbed by swallows, something I have never seen before.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 92.2 Km
  • Time spent riding – 05:18:37
  • Max Speed – 65.3 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 17.4 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – 670 m
Bimbling through the Borders (Pt 2) – Galashiels to Edinburgh

Bimbling through the Borders (Pt 2) – Galashiels to Edinburgh

Saturday morning: Galashiels. We had arrived by bicycle the evening before, having ridden along the NCN 1 from Berwick upon Tweed. The route had been well signed posted until we entered Galashiels along the old Tweedbank railway line and had then faded out. This hadn’t bothered us the evening before as, at that time, we were more interested in finding our B&B for the night. However, in the morning it became more of an issue, we rejoined the old Tweedbank railway line and followed it west, but this led us to a dead end. We looked at the OS map we had with us, and found that this showed the NCN 1 stopping in Galashiels, then starting again some miles away at Peel, to the south of Clovenfords.

We found our own way to Clovenfords along the A72 which was not ideal, as even early on a Saturday morning it was a busy road. When we reached Clovenfords, we noticed a few cyclists hanging out outside the Clovenfords Hotel in the middle of the village. Then, as we turned off the A72 on to the B710, we saw a temporary sign say “Watch out for cyclists”, and we started to wonder if there was a cycling event somewhere in the area. At Caddonfoot, we briefly picked up the A707 before crossing the Tweed to join the old road and the NCN 1, at Peel. This road is a very pleasant ride, undulating above the river Tweed, through fields and along the woodland edge. It is sufficiently far from the new road, on the far side of the Tweed, that you don’t hear the traffic noise and the views are better. Indeed, in many places along the old road you can’t even see the new road.

Another quiet road in the Borders

It is a single track road with passing places and gets very little motor traffic, but, on the day we were riding it, there seemed to be lots of cyclists coming the other way. When the first rider came past with an event number on his bars, we thought it might be a local race, but then we passed more riders, not all of whom where on road bikes and they didn’t seem to be racing. It turned out to be the Bethany Trust Cyclosportive, we were meeting outbound cyclists on the 72 mile (115.9 Km) route, there was also a 111 mile (178.6 Km) route. We found this out from a marshal standing at the junction of the B709, where we turned right across the Tweed.

Arriving in Innerleithen, we found that there were bicycles everywhere, many of them attached to cars. Unfortunately some of the drivers of these cars seem to be unaware that cyclists have the right to use the roads, which is rather sad, but that is mountain bikers for you. Our first stop in Innerleithen was a supermarket to pick up some cake, then on to see some friends. In my experience arriving at friends bearing cake is a sure way to be warmly welcomed, especially if said friends have a child under the age of six months and are unlikely to have had the time to prepare anything ahead of your arrival. As predicted, we (and the cake) were welcomed with open arms and invited to come sit in the garden, at which point I asked if we could sit in the shade, as it had been rather hot cycling in the sun. We sat in a cool shady place and were plied with drinks (and ate most of the cake) by our wonderfully hospitable hosts, for a pleasant hour or so.

Suitably refreshed, we set out once more to tackle the big climbs of the day, following the B709 north out of Innerleithen to cross the Moorfoot Hills. At first the road climbs so gently that you hardly notice you are climbing, but that doesn’t last long. The road first follows the Leithen Water.

Colquhar looking north, Scottish Borders.

Then after Colquhar it turns to follow the Glentress Water along a narrow glen, the hills seem to close in and enfold you as you climb. Crossing the watershed at the head of the Glentress Water, the road levels briefly before trending downhill along the Dewar Burn. As we had been climbing up along the Glentress Water, there had been an anabatic wind, warming adiabatically, blowing down the glen, but now after crossing the watershed we were met by a cold anabatic wind blowing up the glen. Above us, dark cumulus clouds were forming, we had the feeling that there would be thunderstorms later.

On the way up we had only seen a few cyclists come down towards us, none of them part of the cyclosportive, but as we passed the road coming in from Heriot, they started to appear again. By now we were climbing once again, rather gratifyingly the cyclosportive riders weren’t passing us any speed, they were on road bikes and we were on loaded hybrid bikes with panniers. Topping out of final climb on the shoulder of Broad Law, we were disappointed to find the view to the north obscured by haze, on a clear day this would be a spectacular view. I was also disappointed to find that, here as well, there was an anabatic wind which would have been a delight to a hang-glider pilot, but to a descending cyclist looking for speed it was just a nuisance. Indeed the only decent speed I achieved was on a relativity modest slope after turning left towards Middleton, which was sheltered by trees.

The Intrepid Cyclist going down.

The road beyond Middleton is appalling, with the surface breaking up badly. At one point there was a traffic cone at the side of the road, just past it there was a hole over 1.5 m deep and almost 1 m across. Fortunately there was little traffic other than cyclists on the road, as to be forced over by a motor vehicle into one of these pot holes could be fatal. There are quarries marked on the map, it is not clear if these are all still active, but if they are, this would do a lot to explain the state of the road.

Eventually we popped out on to the B3672 just east of Temple. We followed it west to the Braidwood Bridge, and we were back on familiar ground, so we carried on to Carrington, where we stopped to decide which way to go next. Neither of us was keen on taking the NCN 1 route into Edinburgh. We decided that going home via Polton, as we had done the week before, was not such a good idea, as we knew just how steep the hill was (there is an arrow on the map indicating a 14% gradient on both sides). I suggested going via Auchendinny, but that was too far out of the way, so as a compromise solution we settled on going via Roslin Glen. We were aware that there was a bit of a climb on the far side, but there were no arrows marked on the map. When we crossed the bridge over the North Esk, it came as a bit of a surprise that there was a sign giving the upward gradient as 16%. We both dropped into the granny ring and prepared to grind our way up. Personally I was surprised to find that I was able to smoothly pedal all the way up without resorting to the smallest sprockets, Ulli didn’t seem to struggle either. However, we did pass a couple who were pushing mountain bikes up. Beyond Roslin, we picked up the main road at Bilston and followed the familiar commuter route home. Just after reaching home ,the threatened storm finally broke and the rain bucketed it down, with thunder and lightening in the distance over the Moorfoot Hills.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were (mostly lost):

  • Distance cycled – 75.2 Km
  • Vertical climb – ca. 790 m
Bimbling through the Borders (Pt 1) – Berwick to Galashiels

Bimbling through the Borders (Pt 1) – Berwick to Galashiels

After some effort, we managed to secure reservations for two bicycles on the train from Edinburgh Waverley to Berwick-upon-Tweed, that was the good news. The bad news was that it was on the 08:11 departure, and this was a Friday. We had decided to set out on Friday for two reasons, one because the weather forecast for Sunday was increasingly poor and we wanted to be back before the weather broke. The second reason had something to do with the date, which I always forget.

As we set out, the weather was glorious, blue sky, sun shine, light wind, what more could you ask for? The train journey south was uneventful, I dozed through most of it. Getting off the train in Berwick-upon-Tweed, it was grey and dull, no real surprise, well we were in England after-all, or maybe it was the haar caused by the onshore breeze? On our way out of the station, we found signs for the NCN 1 telling use that Edinburgh was 100 miles (160.9 Km) away, doable in a day for those who are into that sort of thing, or a good distance for a two day jaunt.

100 Mile to Edinburgh

Photos taken, we set off. The route is refreshingly well sign posted and quickly takes you out of town on quiet roads. However it wasn’t all good news, little more than 2 Km from the station you get a typical Sustrans experience. The route turns off a quiet farm road (which has a bridge over the A1) and down a narrow overgrown path with hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) on both sides, and then it pops you out on the A1 to cross a dual carriageway without a marked crossing. Safely across, we were soon back on a quiet country road, pedalling along through open farmland under a dull grey sky. Then, as we crossed over the Whiteadder Water and approached Gainslaw Hill, the sky started to clear and the sun come out, the explanation for this was clear, just ahead there was a large sign “Scotland Welcomes you”.

This was one of the three border crossings on the route, each time the pattern was the same, on the Scottish side there would a sign saying “Scotland Welcomes you”, but on the other side there would be a sign saying “England”. This speaks volumes about the different cultural attitudes towards strangers of the two nations ;-). Not that we were in Scotland for long, as only 5 Km further on, the route took us back across the Border. This time crossing the River Tweed on the Union Chain Bridge, one of the interesting things about this bridge is that there was a toll booth on the English end of the bridge. So you had to pay to get into England, but on the west side of the river, “Scotland Welcomes you”.

Just up the road from the road from the Union Chain Bridge is the next point of interest, the Chain Bridge Honey Farm. It is well worth the visit, but a warning to the touring cyclist, when you pick up a jar of honey, the weight marked on the label is the weight of the content not the whole weight you will end up carrying. That said, it is worth it, as is getting some of the Beer and Honey Cake for later consumption, taking in calories is important if you are cycling distance.

Next stop of interest is Norham Castle, first built by the Bishop of Durham in 1121 and encapsulating 900 years of turbulent borders history in one building. Ulli was keen to stop and take photos, but I, to be honest, was more interested in the road down to Norham village, wide swooping bends dropping by about 30m in about 200m, great fun. Beyond Norham we crossed the river Tweed and the border once again and were welcomed back into Scotland. The riding was easy along quiet back roads, sometimes lined with trees, through rich rolling farmland.

Another quiet road in the Borders

Mostly, along this section, the routes seems to avoid settlements, which is probably why there was so little traffic. The route is well signposted, so there is little chance of getting lost, but it is worth carrying a map if you want to branch out to explore or look for supplies. It does pass through the occasional villages such as Eccles and Ednam, but these are just wee places. It also bypasses Kelso with its ruined abbey, which is worth a diversion. We stopped for a long lazy lunch in a small café (the Hoot ‘n’ Cat) not far from the abbey, which was very welcome. There is little left of Kelso Abbey now, much of it destroyed in the wars of the three kingdoms, but in its heyday it must have been massive.

Leaving Kelso, we had to negotiate a short section of A road (the A6089), which is also part of the NCN1. It was odd to realise this was the busiest road we had encountered since crossing the A1. The other thing of note on leaving Kelso is the large gilded gateway to Floors Castle, a clear statement of wealth and power. Our route took us round the back, past the tradesmen’s entrance, and once again we were on quiet roads with great views across the Borders countryside.

Looking to Hume Castle in the distance:
Borders landscape, looking to Hume Castle in the distance

Or looking to the Eildon Hills:
Looking to the Eildon Hills across the Borders landscape

While were stopped for photos, we were passed by a speed walking lady who was in training for the MoonWalk. We then moved on, only to stop again just round the corner to take more photos (from a better angle or without power lines in the way), and a couple of minutes later we would be overtaken by the speed walking lady. It felt like being in one of Aesop’s fables.

Next off was Dryburgh and its Abbey, but first there was the little matter of Clinthill. Given the rising temperature, we were fortunate to be going down the hill, unlike the couple on the tandem who were working hard on the way up, well the guy on the front was, the lassie on the back was taking easier. We didn’t actually go into the Abbey and visit Sir Walter Scott’s grave, we got as far as the shop at the entrance where we bought ice cream, then sat in the shade to eat it.

Ice cream eaten, we were off to cross the Tweed once again, this time by a beautiful traffic free bridge. Of course, having crossed the river, we then had to climb up the other side, but at least it was shady and cool. Then on across the A68 and along the old road. Just beyond Newton St Boswells the old road is closed to motorised traffic, which makes for pleasant cycling. We passed round below the Eildon Hills, which we had earlier seen the distance, but now we were so close we didn’t see them above us. Then we dropped down into Melrose, skirted past the Abbey and decided to visit it another day. We picked up an off road cycle path along an old railway through Tweedbank. It is not yet clear where the NCN 1 will go when the railway line is reinstated in a couple of years time.

It was then on to find our B&B for the night in Galashiels. There was still on surprise to come, between Newton St. Boswells and Tweedbank we had passed a number of touring cyclists, eight of whom proceeded to turn up at our B&B a short while after we did. It turned out that 90% of the guests at the B&B that night were cycling the NCN 1.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were (mostly lost):

  • Distance cycled – 86.51 Km
  • Vertical climb – ca. 510 m
Biking about Bute – Day 2

Biking about Bute – Day 2

Continued from Biking about Bute – Day 1

After a hearty breakfast we set out once again, it had been recommended that we visit Mount Stuart House. Now, country houses are not usually my sort of thing, but on this occasion I decided to go and take a look. The advice was to be there for the first tour, which was good advice (apart from being told the wrong opening times, which meant that we were an hour early). Still, this did mean that we secured places on the first tour of the day, and we had plenty of time to explore the grounds. They have a refreshingly positive attitude to bikes, there is cycle parking directly outside the Visitor Centre and also at the House itself, and we were welcome to cycle around as we pleased. So off we went, rode round some of the estate roads, had a look at the kitchen gardens and arrived in good time for the tour. Now, as I said above, country houses are not my sort of thing, but I actually rather enjoyed the tour of this one. The house has a lived-in feel rather than the pickled in aspic feel you get with a lot of these places.

The tour over, we went outside to get some photos (you are not allowed to take pictures inside), just as the sun came out and the massed hoards arrived, making us glad that we had been on the first tour of the day. Photos duly taken, we set out onto the open road once more, to further explore the island. We headed vaguely towards Kingarth, with the idea of having lunch at the Kingarth Hotel, which is actually the Isle of Bute’s only country pub. Along the way we noticed the roads were really quiet and this was supposed to be a busy Bank Holiday weekend (possibly this was not a Scottish Bank Holiday, but it was still a weekend). On arrival we found the hotel car park was fairly full, maybe this was this where all the traffic had gone to? But there were only 20 or 30 cars. The Smiddy Bar (the dining part of the Kingarth Hotel) was also full, so rather than hang around waiting for a table, we decided to ride on down to Kilchattan Bay to see if we could find anything there.

The ride was pleasantly easy, but we were aware that the wind was at our backs. Looking around for lunch, we found the wee shop was shut, then we saw a sign board outside the St Blane’s Hotel, but the door was locked. There were people sitting in what looked like the bar, maybe they didn’t like the look of two hungry cyclists and locked the door, either way, they didn’t appear to want our custom. So we turned round and cycled back up the hill to Kingarth, which proved to be a lot easier than I had expected. There was now space in the bar, which was good, as the food was great. Fresh, local ingredients and portion sizes ideal for hungry cyclists, all a very reasonable price. What more could you ask for?

Lunch over, back on the road trying to decide where to go next, we were faced by a typical Bute direction sign, left, Rothesay 7 miles (11.3 Km) or right, Rothesay 8 miles (12.9 Km). It is hard to get lost on the Isle of Bute!

Which way?

We turned left, but we weren’t going back to Rothesay straight away, 250 m down the road we turned left again onto Plan Road. We were off to see St Blane’s Church (or rather the remains of St Blane’s Church). As we walked up from the road to the site, we meet a couple coming the other way who we had seen earlier at Mount Stuart (and at the Kingarth Hotel). By the time we got to the ruins we were the only ones there (apart from a few sheep), it is a beautiful, romantic site and well worth visiting.

When we left St Blane’s the sun was shining, but we could see some dark clouds on the horizon and, sure enough, a couple of kilometres along the road we saw a rain shower coming towards us. On the way south we had noted a style over a wall into a wood (there was a standing stone marked on the map), so we took the opportunity to take shelter for 10 minutes or so. The shower passed, we continued on our way, next stop Scalpsie Bay for a spot of seal spotting. There were also dramatic views across the Sound of Bute to Arran, much taking of photos ensued. Photos taken, Ooo’s Ooo’d and Aaah’s Aaah’d, we were back on the road again. As time was getting on, we decided to head back to the metropolis, by the slightly longer route. It was a pleasant evening, the roads were very quiet, and with the evening light glowing, there were more photos to be taken. Later that evening, as we were looking for somewhere to eat in Rothesay, we meet the couple we had been crossing paths with all day. We stopped to chat, she was French, he Scots, they had been worried about our being caught in the rain showers. We explained how we had found shelter, and we all agreed that the Isle of Bute was a lovely place to visit.

Photos from Bute are here. Day one is here and day three is here.

There is a map of our route on day 2 here.

My stats for day 2 were:

  • Distance cycled – 44.6 Km
  • Time spent riding – 02:08:18
  • Max Speed – 65.88 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.85 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 390 m
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